Brackenridge Gathers All Up: My Cohort – Yifan Xiang

As North Oakland stepped into the summer, the Brackenridge fellowship gave me a fresh and hot taste of what it’s like to be in an interdisciplinary cohort (discussion group). This challenged my understanding of “ interdisciplinary”, before, I thought this can only happen when the two disciplines have overlapped such as the science-based engineering and health sciences but actually the distance between disciplines can be quite far: from arts to computer science, from engineering to literature, from philosophy to health sciences, or from linguistics to biology. 

All these seemingly impossible links are what brought us together as Brackenridge scholars. The difference between my research in rehabilitation science and others is the best “textbook” for me to learn in this sunny Pittsburgh summer. There are so many things I hope to learn from the differences. The first is the research topic. It was very fun to listen scholars in my cohort introducing me to a what they are doing: Sarah Moore is discovering difference between the word “ kind” and “ nice” for aiming to create a more happy, inclusive and safe campus environments; Jatin Singh is using algorithms from Artificial intelligence to predict patients outcomes with radiology imaging such as CT, X-ray, MRIs; Sara Zdancewicz is characterizing the interactions between the new drug treating pathological angiogenesis (blood vessels growth in wrong areas or times) and their protein targets in the body; Eric Gliniak is looking into the neuromuscular tissue in healthy mice and mice with Triosephosphate Isomerase Deficiency; Sachit Anand is reviewing Al algorithmic bias in healthcare aiming for having more focuses on individual and societal health conditions; Christopher Katyal is focusing on the news articles on social media change people’s biases; and Sriram Amirneni is modeling a pediatric liver disease using induced pluripotent stem cell. I am doing research investigating the barriers and facilitators of rehabilitation providers using mainstream wireless technologies to deliver rehabilitation intervention to their patients. Listening to all these amazing project ideas really feels like a “ whole new world” but I can also find points to resonate with here and there. 

Experiencing the width of research across disciplines, I am eager to discover more similarities between projects from my fellows. Last seminar we discussed our research purposes with each other. I can see lots of research is actually rooted in the same logic or hope to serve the same group: but they are from different disciplines. I found all projects interesting so far and this inspired me to read and learn widely in order to increase the scope of my knowledge. I also found similar combinations of health sciences and technology in my project such as Sachit’s investigation of AI algorithms’ biases in healthcare and Jatin’s way of using AI to predict patient outcomes. Even though our methods may be different, this similarity may point to tomorrow’s healthcare which will have large portions of technology elements. This leads to another thing I hope to learn from this fellowship: the trends in different disciplines. This can also encourage me to never stop learning since the world will constantly change. I believe the Brackenridge fellowship projects 10 years ago are definitely different from the projects this summer. 

I also hope to experience the depth of research. Brackenridge has already given me the taste of this by introducing the philosophical root of research and different classifications of research methods. When I saw my fellows raising their hands to classify their research methods, I found how diverse the group is, and sometimes things can be complex. 

This brought out the importance of transferable skills and ideas. For example, communication is one of them and it is the thing I hope to improve the most this summer. From the interactions I had with my fellows so far I found different people have different styles to tell their stories of research. It was very inspiring to listen to different fellows talking about different projects. And this made me think about how I can talk about my projects in a way that is accessible to everybody with different backgrounds. Transferable skills also highlight the benefits of working with people across disciplines for my personal goals in the rehabilitation field. I realize I can identify more transferable skills such as problem-solving, and adaptability from the moments I talk with my fellows. There might be moments in this fellowship or in the future that challenge me but by equipping myself with the open-mindedness and transferable skills gained from experience like this I am confident I can get through the challenges! 

When talking about the benefits of research purposes, working interdisciplinary can achieve something that is impossible in a single field. This is just like the combination of engineers and healthcare teams in rehabilitation: rehabilitation technologies keep popping up. This is why I had such an amazing area to discover right now. Not to mention there are those surprising combinations such as arts and STEMs that can create something beautiful and blow people’s minds! When all the things gathered up, something amazing happened. 

However, working interdisciplinary is challenging. I realized sometimes it is hard to find common knowledge with other fellows so this affects the understanding of each other’s projects. For example, there are lots of domain-specific practices in each field, and sometimes the values conflict with each other. While communication is another huge obstacle, it is also the driving force to collaborate interdisciplinarily. With experiences like the Brackenridge fellowship and a mind with passions and open-mindedness, I am feeling more and more confident to be in an interdisciplinary environment!

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